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Good Writing: The Key to Business Success

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Good Writing: The Key to Business Success

Due to the fact that the word "good" is a subjective term, "good" writing can be defined in a number of ways, as the opinions of "good writing" are as varied as the types of writing genres. Most writing experts agree, however, that good writing has several common characteristics: it is grammatically and mechanically sound, it captures the reader's attention, it is thoroughly researched, it is properly organized, and it communicates the writer's message. Good business writing shares these traits with other types of writing, but is characterized by its concise language and the immediacy with which it delivers the author's purpose. This type of writing is unique because the its quality directly affects the organization's productivity and profit.

Customers evaluate the quality and content of a company's correspondence when deciding whether or not to choose the company's product or service. According to Elsie Prizio, some businesses have suffered economically because of poorly written letters.

Most would agree the exchange of information between company and agency is more efficient and faster than ever before. Agencies are now better equipped to provide more accurate and detailed communication [about] existing and prospective customers. All the tools are in place. But there is a problem. Employees at all levels continue to write memos [sic], reports, letters, and other correspondence that fall short of the goal--their words fail to communicate. And all [of] the megabytes and RAM one can put together won't help any poorly written communication. There is no substitute for correspondence that gets across the message in a clear, concise manner . . . Frequently, new business opportunities are lost because a proposal was not written clearly enough for the prospect. Customers and potential customers are turned off by poorly prepared memos and letters (99).

The documents produced within the firm do not only represent the individual author, but the company as a whole (X.J. Kennedy et al. 219). The documents are a reflection of the individual writer's and the firm's professionalism and overall competence; a reader will not have much confidence in an organization or in an individual who fails to communicate clearly.

Employees and supervisors within an organization are often inundated with letters, memoranda, mail, and irrelevant electronic mail (e-mail). These individuals have little time to read each document extensively, and therefore often simply quickly peruse each text to find the most important facts. Managers and workers make decisions and take action based upon the facts they gather from these documents; when information is distorted in the form of poor writing, employees may take actions with adverse consequences. This problem is avoided when writers understand their audience; once the audience has been analyzed, the process of writing begins. According to Jack Hart, effective writers are able to relate to their audience. "Clear writing is largely a matter of empathy. Seeing things as readers do helps get the message through [sic]" (3).

The process of audience analysis helps the writer set the tone of the document: whether formal or informal, personal or impersonal. The writer must determine whether the readers are consumers, superiors, or subordinates. The writer must be familiar with the readers' background: occupation, education, and culture are all significant factors that a writer must consider (Held 18).

The importance of writing clearly enough for the target audience is underscored in Lisa Jenner's article "Develop communications and training with literacy in mind."

The National Adult Literacy Survey estimated that ninety million adults have difficulty with basic literacy tasks, such as reading a bus schedule or filling out a bank deposit slip; the AFL-CIO [American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations] has reported that one worker dies on the job every hour of every day, and one worker is injured on the job every five seconds (14).

These alarming reports give credence to the importance of writing with the audience in mind.

Contrary to popular belief, a concisely written business paper begins with a summary; the summary is preferably written in one paragraph, but in no more than one page. According to Facts on File's The AMA Style Guide for Business Writing, "The traditional method of placing summaries at the end of documents is ineffective. Rather, the most crucial points should be presented at the beginning" (285). A clearly written business document states its purpose immediately and remains focused on this purpose throughout the document. Whether the writer's intent is to inform, elicit for information, or to persuade, maintaining focus on the purpose "[avoids] the temptation to wander off topic" (Powell 36). The key points of the summary are later elaborated upon in subsequent paragraphs.

A well-organized paragraph begins with a topic sentence. According to David H. Lynch and Steven Golen, "Carefully worded and restricted [topic sentences] . . . serve as the glue that bind each paragraph together" (53). All basic interrogatives should be answered within the paragraphs: who, what, when, where, why, and how. When all of these questions pertaining to the document's main subject are answered, the readers will have the pertinent facts.

All of the paragraphs of a clearly written business document are written simply and directly. In her article entitled "Make it short and sweet," Cassandra Hayes points out that effective memoranda, for example, use strong action verbs and short sentences. Well-written business documents also avoid redundancies, clichй's, slang, and jargon. They are free of sexist language and racial slurs; they do not offend the reader (Powell 37).

The following memorandum highlights some of the characteristics of a well-written business document. This "Procedure for Dealing with the Media" memorandum is an example of company-internal document. (The company name and address lines were omitted for brevity.)

To: All Staff

From: Len Fireman, President


Subject: Media Policy

Our policy for dealing with the media is to respond quickly and politely. Do not refuse to speak to media representatives or fail to return their phone calls. News is only news for a very short time, and the media must print or broadcast something. It's better if that something comes [sic] directly from a



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